Richwoods High preps for its hosting role as the 1st IHSA girls state wrestling tournament begins
Rob Penney says he’s very busy, but very excited, ahead of a history-making competition this weekend.
The inaugural Illinois High School Association girls state wrestling competition gets underway Friday, with the Richwoods High School hosting one of the state’s four sectionals.
“I think it’s a great step for girls sports, and girls wrestling in particular,” said Penney, the Knights’ coach. “It’s a big deal to us and I think it’s going to be a really fun event.”
Penney said the Knights will have a nine-member lineup for the sectional, including state title hopefuls in sisters Arie and Jaida Johnson and Kyley Bair. Arie Johnson won her weight class in last year’s Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) state tournament, an unaffiliated precursor to the IHSA series.
“The list keeps going; I’ve got a few first-year kids that I think have great potential,” said Penney. “I personally have been committed to building a quality girls wrestling program for the last five years and I think we’re headed in the right direction. I’m hoping we can get quite a few (girls) to state this year.”
Penney said Richwoods is currently the only Peoria school with a girls wrestling team. Other central Illinois schools with wrestlers participating in the Knights’ sectional include Canton, Washington, Normal Community and Normal West.
“Basically everything south of Interstate 80 is coming to our sectional, so it’s kind of overwhelming when you think about it,” said Penney. “I think we have roughly 40 teams that have at least one wrestler in the tournament, but only a handful of teams have almost full lineups. You don’t have a lot of full teams coming yet because this is the first year of the IHSA doing this. But I do think it’s going to build and it’s going to be pretty nice.”
This weekend’s other three sectionals are being held in Evanston, Naperville (Central), and Tinley Park (Andrew). The top four placers in each weight class from each sectional advance to the state finals Feb. 25-26 at Bloomington’s Grossinger Motors Arena. The tournament is just an individual competition, at least for now.
“They’re not doing a state series for teams yet because the numbers don’t merit it, but my opinion is that if you’re going to host a sectional, you should at least acknowledge the team that did the best,” said Penney. “You would have four sectional team titles, and those four could wrestle each other at some point for state title.
“But that’s not happening yet this year. I think in the years to come, when it gets more stable and teams are getting more and more girls out, that it will happen.”